Picture an undulating plain, feel the fierce heat of the early afternoon, see four cyclists climb painfully up a long, shallow hill. Behind them a fifth is struggling. That is me.
Heat reflects from the broken tarmac and my face and arms are burnt. I suffer. Intermittently I swig water from a flask. The water is warm. By the time I return the flask to its cage I am out of breath. By the time I catch my breath I am thirsty again. The air is scalding, I am done for, but I am determined not to be fall further behind. I manage to look up and see a structure near the top of the hill: a platform with balustrades and a simple straw roof. We climb for another 20 minutes, we reach the open sided building, stop and painfully dismount. We lean our bikes against the steps and collapse in the shade. The van that shadows our cycling tour fills up our flasks with cold water and hands more to the five of us and to the old man in an orange robe sitting under a nearby tree He is a monk. A Buddhist. His back is bent. His smile is pure. Our guide talks to him. At my prompting he asks the monk who built this shelter.
“It is a long hill and it gets very hot in the summer, so I knew men on bicycles would come and need to shelter from the sun.”
“And did cyclists come?”
“You are the first.”
We thank him and he smiles like a man who understands why men were born. We leave him with fruit and water and sweet biscuits. We mount the bikes.
“Time to rock and roll”
says our guide and we struggle the remaining yards to the brow of the hill, then down the other side. We don’t freewheel. We maintain a fast cadence, but apply little pressure to the pedals. The air is thick and hot as it passes over our exposed skin. It is hard to breath. I swallow insects and my eyes sting from the sweat rolling down my face. We reach the bottom of the hill and start to climb the next. I look up to see the summit. It is bare, there is no shelter. The sun has no mercy. The water in my bottle is warm again.
“10 kilometres to go” says the guide.
I am thirsty and out of breath. Ten kilometres to go.
Copyright ©2020 Roger Jinkinson